Background: There is evidence of olfactory deficits in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) but causes and mechanisms are largely unknown.
Methods: We compared 728 patients with current MDD and 555 non-depressed controls regarding odor identification impairment taking into account the severity of acute symptoms and of the disease course. We assessed current symptom severity with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and disease course severity based on admission diagnosis (ICD-10, F32/F33) and self-reported hospitalization frequency, defined as infrequent (<2) and frequent (≥2) depression-related hospitalizations under constant disease duration. A score of <10 on the Sniffin' Sticks-Screen-12 test determined the presence of odor identification impairment.
Results: Compared to non-depressed controls patients with frequent (rapidly recurring) hospitalizations had an elevated chance of odor identification impairment, even after adjustment for smell-influencing factors, such as age and smoking, (OR=1.7; 95% CI 1.0-2.9). Patients with recurrent MDD (F33) also had an elevated odds of odor identification impairment compared to those with a first-time episode (F32, OR=1.5; 95% CI 1.0-2.4). In patients with a first-time episode the chance of odor identification impairment increased by 7% with each point increase in the Hamilton Score.
Limitations: Cross-sectional study. Variation in the use of psychotropic medication is a potential bias.
Conclusion: Odor identification impairment was evident in MDD patients with first-time high symptom severity and in patients with a severe disease course. Whether odor identification impairment is a marker or mediator of structural and functional brain changes associated with acute or active MDD requires further investigations in longitudinal studies.
Keywords: Disease course severity; Major depressive disorder; Odor identification impairment; Symptom severity.
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